I have a friend – let’s call her Caroline. As long as I’ve known her, she hasn’t driven a car. I have no idea if she can’t drive, or if she just doesn’t like to, but I have got used to her husband, friends or family lifting her to functions and get-togethers. As second nature as driving is to me, I assume that there is a real and valid reason why she doesn’t drive. I have never offered her advice on how to drive or how I managed to learn to drive, or told her a story about another friend who learnt to drive at the age of 40. It’s none of my business really, and besides, we have more interesting things to talk about.
One thing I’ve learnt as a parent and birth worker, though, is that people (actually it’s mainly women) love to tell other women how to birth, feed and parent their babies. They assume that because something was easy for them, it should be easy for everyone, and indeed that everyone should make the same choices for their children because there is only one right choice.
I think I might have been the same once upon a time, until I worked with so many different families and realised that actually most people don’t want your advice. They have likely made the decision they made because it was the best decision at the time for their particular family, in their particular circumstances, given all that they knew and had learnt at that point.
Does that mean I never give advice? Well, of course not – I’m paid to guide families through pregnancy, labour, birth and the postpartum period. So sometimes I give a mother some ideas but never before asking her what she actually wants to achieve. Pushing breastfeeding or unmedicated birth on someone who has no interest in these things is selfish and would be more to do with my ego and the validation of my own worldview than a genuine attempt to reach another human being.
Do you know what’s more valuable than advice? Acts of service and gestures of kindness. Without ever asking, I have been assisted by more men than I can count (it’s always been men in my experience) with my children. Helping me to steer a trolley into a bay while I juggle a sleeping toddler in my arms and another child beside me. Opening the car door a little wider when I am battling to plug a child in. Letting me go first in the queue when they see my child is tired and near hysteria and I need to be as quick as I can. They haven’t told me a story about their own family, or moralised about my parenting; they have literally just stepped in to help, and brushed away my thanks.
So unless you are paying me for my advice,the way in which you birth, feed and parent your child is none of my business, and besides, we have more interesting things to talk about.